December 31, 2013

Our Top Ten Post of 2013

A look back at some of our favorite moments of 2013: (L-R) Learning Sicilian with Professor Gaetano Cipolla at the IAM; The Feast of San Rocco with the Societá Gioventú Quagliettana; Concert dedicated to the brigands of Southern Italy with Michela Musolino and John T. LaBarbera; Dressing up as the Munaciello for Halloween; and The Feast of San Rocco with the San Rocco Society of Potenza
01 Italics, Italics, Everywhere! (Part 1) The Ancient Peoples of Sicily
02 Arthur Avenue Walking and Tasting Tour With Renée Restivo 
03 Arturo DiModica and His Charging Bull 
04 The Lion of Wall Street: Ferdinand Pecora and the Crash of 1929
05 New Discoveries at the Met 
06 An Interview With Santi Buscemi
07 The Roman Lemuria, and the Ungrateful Dead 
08 Learning Sicilian at the Italian American Museum
09 Mare Nostrum: The Arrival of Our Mediterranean Ancestors
10 Pizza and Paulaner: Celebrating the Feast of San Francesco di Paola
(L-R, Top) Dancing the tarantella at the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Bergen Beach, Brooklyn; A memorable night in Little Italy with Ernie Rossi and Simona De Rosa; Fiaccolata di San Rocco in Astoria, Queens; Lifting the children's giglio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Bottom) Watching the ladies lift the giglio in East Harlem and The Feast of the Madonna Addolorata in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn
Close, but no cigar:

Concert Dedicated to the Brigands of Southern Italy and "Cucina Della Nonna" in Williamsburg, Brooklyn deserve honorable mentions. Perhaps if these posts had as much "air-time" as some of the others they may have made our Top Ten list.

Still making the rounds:

01 A Look at the Fourth Annual Procession of Maria S.S. Addolorata in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn * 
02 The Murder of Sicilians in New Orleans
03 Thy Neighbor's Keeper

* For some reason this post went "viral" and got almost 30 thousand page views in one day

Click here to see last year's results

Photos by New York Scugnizzo

December 27, 2013

La Vigilia and Other Christmas Traditions

Ricci di Mare
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli

Like many Neapolitan Americans, my family keeps the tradition of La Vigilia di Natale, the southern Italian ritual of eating seafood and eschewing meat on Christmas Eve. Despite regular and varied claims to authenticity, I believe the so-called Festa dei sette pesci, or the Feast of the Seven Fishes, is a recent fabrication. Though more lavish then in the past, according to our matriarchs there were never a set number of dishes served. We simply ate what we could afford, and what was fresh and available. 

Today, we normally have shrimp, calamari (squid), clams, mussels and scungilli (whelk), which all can be prepared in a variety of ways. Capitone fritto alla napoletana (fried eel) is usually the main course, but this year we had ricci di mare (sea urchin) and baccalà (salt cod).

As always, the ladies outdid themselves and treated us to another memorable dinner.
Baccalà with tomato, onion and olives
Raw squid with ground black pepper and fresh lemon juice
Following the fish bonanza was another southern Italian specialty: panzerotti, delicious crescent-shaped deep fried dough filled with mozzarella and tomato or scallion and ricotta.
Next came fruit, roasted chestnuts, caffè and an assortment of delicious sweets, including cartellate and struffoli, the quintessential Neapolitan Christmas dessert that will satisfy the most stubborn sweet tooth. There is no panettone in my house.
The vigil, of course, is not just about food, it's also about family and faith. 

After dinner we played games (tombola) with the kids and attended Midnight Mass. This year we celebrated at the Shrine Church of Saint Bernadette in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Afterward, we braved the cold and walked through the neighborhood to see some of the spectacular Christmas decorations. My family has been doing this for as long as I can remember, though originally it was in East New York, Brooklyn, where my maternal grand- and great-grandparents were from.
Dyker Heights Christmas displays
Christmas morning we exchanged presents, made the rounds and visited family and friends until dinnertime. No less extravagant than the Eve, Christmas dinner was a culinary tour de force with plenty of hot and cold antipasti, insalata, baked manicotti and a American-style Christmas ham. Fruit, dessert and caffè complete the meal. 
Baked manicotti
Not quite finished yet, December 26th is Prima Festa, or First Feast. In honor of Santo Stefano (Saint Stephen), the first martyr, we usually celebrate with torrone, a sticky nougat candy made from honey, nuts and egg whites that dates back to Roman times. I like mine with a glass of Strega. Buon Natale!
Soft torrone with hazelnuts from Avellino

December 16, 2013

Announcing 'La Cantata dei Pastori' at the Theater for the New City

Actors: Giuseppe De Falco (Razzullo), Max McGrath (La Befana), James Karcher (il Diavolo), Mark Mindek (Archangel Gabriel), Alessandra Belloni (Madonna)
and Francesca Silvano (Dancer) Photos by New York Scugnizzo
Celebrate the Epiphany, The Coming of The Light, in Southern Italian Style with I Giullari di Piazza's 'LA CANTATA DEI PASTORI' (The Shepherd's Cantata). Based on the Traditional Southern Italian Play Written by Andrea Perrucci in the 17th century and still performed annually in the environs of Naples. The musical version has been adapted and directed by Alessandra Belloni and enacted by masked commedia dell'arte characters, puppets, devils, and the Archangel Gabriel on stilts. Original music by John La Barbera. Narrated in English by Le Befana, the Good Witch of Christmas.

Presented by Theater for the New City, Crystal Field, Director
Sunday January 5 at 5 PM  (Epiphany Eve in Italy)
Theater for the New City (in the Johnson Theater) 
155 First Avenue (between 9th & 10th Street)
Tickets: $25; $15 for children 12 and under
Reservations: (212) 254–1109 or 

Join La Befana, the Good Witch of Christmas, Mary and Joseph, the Archangel Gabriel, Devils, Demons, and the commedia dell'arte characters who enact this beloved story of the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, and the triumph of good over evil. 
Musicians: Wilson Montouri (guitar), Susan Ebenz (wind instruments), John LaBarbera (guitar, battante), Sebastian LaBarbera (violin) and Antonio Romano (Calabrian bagpipe) Photos by New York Scugnizzo
The play's author, Andrea Perrucci, used the pseudonym of Dt. Casimiro Ruggiero Ugone when he wrote "La Cantata dei Pastori." This Sicilian-born but Neapolitan-bred poet and dramatist, who had a reputation in Naples as a stage director,  was educated by the Jesuits and received a doctorate in letters.

December 11, 2013

A Week in December

Details from the Met's Neapolitan Baroque Crèche
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli

I had a busy, but fun week, full of culturally rewarding and spiritually edifying activities. Instead of several short entries, I thought I would share some of the highlights with you in one large post.

Holy Family by Salvatore di Franco
I began my week with a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of art to see the Annual Angel Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche installation. This has become one of my favorite holiday rituals.

Dating from the eighteenth century, the prestigious collection boasts over two hundred figures created by some of Naples' leading artists, including Giuseppe Sanmartino and Salvatore di Franco.

I always appreciate the Christmas display, but wish they would exhibit some of the pieces during the rest of the year. I understand there are space considerations to contend with, but I'm sure room can be found for one or two of the most significant pieces (e.g. the Angels by Giuseppe Sanmartino). The figures truly are masterpieces worthy of permanent display.

Maria Terrone
The Literary Committee of the National Arts Club presented their Authors' Showcase featuring a select group of member-authors. Their works represented a broad range of genres and subjects, including poetry, theater, fiction, politics, history, and mystery. A reception and book signing followed.

Maria Terrone was there and read excerpts from A Secret Room in Fall and her upcoming work Eye to Eye.

As always, it was a pleasure seeing Maria and her husband Bill, and catching up afterward at the reception and book signing. A big fan of her poetry, I look forward to Maria's new collection, which is scheduled to be published by Bordighera Press in 2014.

Anita Sanseverino shows us how the presepio figures are made
Thursday more than made up for the "slow" Wednesday. I made my way to Little Italy to attend a lecture about the Presepio Napoletano by Anita Sanseverino and a concert by acclaimed Neapolitan singer-songwriter Simona De Rosa at the Italian American Museum. 
A look at some of the IAM's renovations
Arriving a little early, I was lucky enough to be given a sneak-peek of the museum's highly anticipated renovations by Dr. Joseph V. Scelsa, President of the Italian American Museum. The new expansion includes the ground floor and basement at 187 Grand Street, which will provide much needed space for the museums extensive collection of Italian American memorabilia and cultural artifacts. According to Dr. Scelsa, the additions will serve as a gallery and research archive.
The presepio lecture was fascinating, as always. Anita is a terrific speaker; she's very knowledgeable, engaging and happy to answer all of our questions. Her passion for the subject is plain to see. When I first met her in 2009 I was immediately impressed by her fervor for all things Neapolitan. It felt so wonderful to meet someone who was as enthusiastic about Naples as I am, if not more.
Anita Sanseverino and Dr. Scelsa show off presepio figures
She covered everything about this popular Christmas custom, from its humble origins with Saint Francis of Assisi, to the golden age under the Neapolitan Bourbons, to today's artisans. The lecture also included a photo exhibit and short film featuring Anita's spectacular pictures from her visit to Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples. For those who may be unfamiliar with it, Via San Gregorio Armeno is famous for its many artisan workshops that specialize in making Christmas figurines and Nativity scenes. 

Following the talk, while waiting for the musicians to set up, Dr. Scelsa played a promotional DVD for Ferrigno, one of the leading artisan shops specializing in Neapolitan terracotta figures.
The sensational Simona De Rosa
Complementing the event’s Neapolitan theme, the mini concert by Neapolitan singer-songwriter Simona De Rosa was a fine way to finish the evening. Simona was joined by the very talented bassist Cristian Capasso and guitarist Gennaro Esposito. There set included several jazz numbers and classic Neapolitan standards like O Sole Mio and Torna a Surriento. However, they were performed with her own original musical arrangements. The trio entranced their audience, who clapped and sang along, bringing this wonderful program to a rousing end. 
(L-R) Cristian Capasso, Gennaro Esposito and Simona De Rosa with Dr. Scelsa

I walked through the rain to Saint Dominic's RC Church in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, to celebrate The Feast of San Nicola di Bari with members of Club Barese and the Associazione Culturale Pugliese Figli Maria S.S. Addolorata. 
Viva San Nicola di Bari!
It was a great thrill and privilege for me to help carry the saint from the antechamber to his place of honor aside the altar, before and after mass.

Following the service we were invited back to the cozy Caduti Superga Mola Soccer Club for pizza and dessert. I met many wonderful people—including President Joe Manfredi—who are committed to preserving our culture and traditions. 

Saint Anthony's Relics
Taking a break from my Christmas shopping, I went to Most Precious Blood Church in Bath Beach, Brooklyn, to venerate Saint Anthony's precious relics, which are currently visiting New York City in honor of the occasion of the 750th Anniversary (1263—2013) of their discovery by Saint Bonaventure.

In 2007 I was fortunate enough to visit the Basilica Sant'Antonio di Padova, but for those devotees who are unable to travel to Italy, this is a wonderful opportunity to venerate the relics in person.

Click here for the remaining New York City schedule.

(L-R) Rocco Fasano sang a traditional Quagliettana folk song;
Father Vincent led us in prayer and sang a folk hymn in honor of San Rocco
What better way to end the week than by attending the Societá Gioventú Quagliettana's annual Christmas dinner dance? Held at the renowned Leonard's Palazzo in Great Neck, NY, family and friends came together to celebrate the Christmas season. There was plenty of good food, music and dance, as well as, raffles and a magician for the children (of all ages).
Revelers having a good time at the dinner dance
Coincidentally, my week ended the way it started, albeit on a more modest scale. After the dinner dance, we returned to the Societá Gioventú Quagliettana's social club in Astoria, Queens, where I was graciously shown the society's presepio by president Vincenzo Carpinelli. 
The Societá Gioventú Quagliettana's Presepio
As it was the Immaculate Conception, the traditional beginning of the Christmas season, I went home and set up my own crèche.

Neapolitan Glory

Baroque Presepio at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Angel Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
I never tire of visiting the Neapolitan presepio at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; it is one of my favorite Christmas rituals. In the beginning of the tradition such grandiose displays were arranged by the nobility and the church for the public to view, only later did the populace begin to recreate them in their own homes. Seeing such a grand exhibit at the MET seemed to me akin to viewing it at a palace or cathedral, as in the times of old.
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December 5, 2013

Postcards of the Mezzogiorno at the IAM

A Photographic Essay of Southern Italy in the Bari Area
Friday, December 13th (6:30pm)
Suggested donation of $10 per person
Photo essay by International Transportation Photojournalist Joseph M. Calisi

Joseph M. Calisi retraced places visited in his youth to capture the sun-splashed beauty of a region rarely seen by tourists. This photographic essay of Puglia, features the beauty of Southern Italy that extends beyond the cathedrals of Rome and the gondolas of Venice. Commentary will accompany the presentation as he explores how the subtle overlay of technology has been interwoven with the classic architecture that endures.

Italian American Museum
155 Mulberry Street
(Corner of Grand and Mulberry Streets)
New York, NY 10013 

To reserve a place for these events, please call the Italian American Museum at (212) 965-9000 or email:

December 3, 2013

Cracotan Christmas Customs

Crachese Presepio: The presepio of Craco Society members, Frank and Anna Rinaldi is shown above. The word presepio (Nativity Scene) comes from Latin and today it means manger or crib. The presepio is arranged according to the artistic sense of the builder and was prepared for Christmas but removed by the 2nd February. In Craco, a presepio was set up in the Church of San Nicola Vescovo (Chiesa Madre). A small light over the presepio was attached to a coin box where children would drop a coin to illuminate the scene with the proceeds helping to support the church. Photo courtesy of the Craco Society
Reprinted from the December 2013 Craco Society Bulletin

Christmas traditions of Craco Vecchio were markedly different from those celebrated in America when the immigrants arrived.

Although San Nicola, the town’s patron saint was not important to the Cracotan Christmas tradition he was recognized worldwide as Santa Claus and became important in North American Christmas celebrations.

December, the last month of the calendar year was more important to the people of Craco for their agricultural needs in addition to the events on the clerical calendar. 

As part of the agricultural calendar the picking of olives and bring-ing them to the frantoio (press) to make olive oil occurred this month. It was customary to sample the new olive oil by toasting bread at the frantoio and drizzling the first few drops of the virgin olive oil on the toasted bread. 

The religious side of life in town had many dates, celebrations and traditions that occurred in December. This included, celebration of the “Immacolata” (the feast of the Immaculate Conception), then on the following week, the celebration of the feast of Santa Lucia. 

This event marked not only the saint's day but also a change in the season which was important to farming communities. This feast was celebrated by soaking ceci and grain then cooking it for several hours and offering it to the poor. The “porridge” was also eaten for breakfast on Santa Lucia’s feast day. 

People also began making nativity scenes with handmade clay figures, and moss gathered from the fields. These would be used to create a “presepio” a Nativity Scene.
Tombola Set: In Italy, tombola is a very common family game played at Christmas. It is similar to bingo. Playing tombola is a holiday must, with all the relatives united around grandparents and small children shouting when they win a prize (adults usually don't call a prize if there are children around, to let them win). Photo courtesy of the Craco Society
During the week before Christmas, the kitchens got busy making seasonal specialties such as “pettole” (fried dough), “panzerotti” (smaller versions of calzones filled with a sweet chestnut or ceci filling) and “cartellate”, (crisp pinwheel pastries sometimes called the "dahlias of San Nicola" because of their color and shape and their association with the nuns of the hospice for pilgrims of Saint Nicholas of Bari.

On Christmas Eve, families gathered to eat baccala (dried salted cod) and other seafood, then attend midnight Mass at the Church of San Nicola (La Chiesa Madre). 

On Christmas Day families gathered together to enjoy the day including the tradition of playing Tombola using orange peels as Tombola markers. 

For those who had immigrated to America they found a whole new way to celebrate the Christmas season. 

Although clerical events would remain available to them the celebrations were not public events celebrated town wide. 

Certainly, Cracotan families maintained traditional gatherings, shared customs and foods. But these were modified over time as assimilation occurred. 

The Christmas tree became a standard, the presepio was replaced by manger scenes, and presents were exchanged earlier. In Italy gifts are exchanged on January 6 with the “La Befana” bringing gifts to good children. She was replaced by Santa Claus in America but this was probably appreciated by the old Cracotans since San Nicola had always been their patron. 


The Craco Society 
14 Earl Road 
East Sandwich, MA 02537 USA 

Facebook: The Craco Society 
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San Vincenzo's Tailor

Pasquale Marrese and Maria Ferrante
—Married in Craco in 1870 they arrived
in NY City in 1890 and were mainstays
of the community
Photo courtesy of the Craco Society
Reprinted from the December 2013 Craco Society Bulletin

After the completion of the 112th Feast of San Vincenzo in New York City the story of how the statue at St. Joseph’s Church was made surfaced. This story ends speculation about the origins of the statue and perhaps provides insight into how the banner from the Societá San Vincenzo Martire di Craco was made. 

Rosa D’Elia Francavilla shared a story about her great grandfather Pasquale Marrese making the clothing for the statue. 

Rosa’s mother, Maria Teresa Tuzio was the daughter of Giuseppe Tuzio and Rosa Marrese who were married in Craco in 1902. Rosa Marrese’s father, Pasquale Marrese (Born 1846 Craco, died 1914 Jersey City, NJ) had emigrated to the US in the 1880s was a mainstay of the Crachesi community in New York City. 

Pasquale brought his tailoring skills to America and established a shop at 53 Spring St., Manhattan (see May 2013 Newsletter, pg.1). He also encountered both tragedy (June 2013 Newsletter, pg. 3) and also success as one of the founders of the Societá San Vincenzo Martire di Craco an organization he helped create to aid his paesani immigrants. As an incorporator and Director of the Societá in 1899 he set a course for the organization that would support the Cracotan community in New York for the next 50 years. 

A segment from the banner of the 
Societá San Vincenzo Martire di Craco 
showing similar detail. This leads to 
speculation that he also fabricated the 
banner of the Societá. The crest, sewn 
into the center of the banner, contains 
many symbolic elements related to 
Craco including the stemma 
Photo courtesy of the Craco Society
By 1899, he had moved his household from 221 Mulberry St. to Jersey City, NJ but continued to maintain his tailor shop in New York. 

In 1901 when the Societá San Vincenzo Martire di Craco entered into a contract with St. Joachim’s Church to provide a statue of San Vincenzo and a relic of the saint, considerable coordination and work was required. This may explain why it took two years from the organization’s founding to arrange to install the statue and relic in the church. 

Pasquale Marrese’s role becomes even more important as we learn from his great-granddaughter that he was responsible for sewing the clothing on the statue in New York. 

It makes great sense that a Crachese, with tailoring skills would be involved in creating the statue of San Vincenzo in New York in 1900. Relying on his memory of the statue’s clothing in Craco and perhaps the woodcut of the saint that was brought to America by the immigrants he lovingly fabricated the statue’s intricate and bejeweled clothing. More than likely he also created the statue’s body using a mannequin. With the extensive detail some of the work was also done by fellow Cracotans who were employed at his shop. 
The statue made by Pasquale Marrese in 1901
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
Secret of the Clothing: Woodcut available in America of San Vincenzo In 1899 
Photo courtesy of the Craco Society
Loving Details: A close up photograph showing the details, jewels and intricate stitching that make up the clothing on the statue
Photo courtesy of the Craco Society 
The Craco Society 
14 Earl Road 
East Sandwich, MA 02537 USA 

Facebook: The Craco Society 
Join our Yahoo Group: 

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December 1, 2013

Italian American Museum Presents A Special Christmas Celebration

Featuring a Photographic Exhibit of the Presepe Napoletano by Anita Sanseverino and Musical Performance by Simona De Rosa
Anita Sanseverino
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
Photographic Exhibit Presented by Anita Sanseverino

Renowned Italian American photographer Anita Sanseverino will present a lecture and photographic exhibit on the history of the "Presepe Napoletano,” the traditional Neapolitan nativity scene which dates back to the 11th Century.  Meaning “crib” or “crèche” in English, a presepe depicts the birth of Jesus, and also became a showcase for local artisans and craftsmen.

Ms. Sanseverino will trace its origins to the Middle Ages, and how the art form reached its pinnacle in the southern Italian city. 

The photos will be on exhibit at the Museum through January 12, 2014.
Simona De Rosa
Musical performance by Simona De Rosa

Acclaimed Jazz and Italian singer Simona De Rosa will take the audience to Italy with the most famous Italian songs.  A trip that you won't forget!

Joining her will be some of the finest musicians of the New York City scene and a special guest from Naples.

Thursday, December 5th (6:30PM)

Italian American Museum
155 Mulberry Street
(Corner of Grand and Mulberry Streets)
New York, NY 10013

Suggested donation of $10 

To reserve a place for this special Christmas celebration, please call the Italian American Museum at (212) 965-9000 or email:

November 27, 2013

"Cucina Della Nonna" in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Participants and organizers pose for a photo
Photos by New York Scugnizzo

By Giovanni di Napoli

On Sunday (Nov. 24th) I had the great pleasure of attending Cucina della Nonna ("Grandma's Kitchen"), the first of hopefully many celebrations of Neapolitan food, family, and culture sponsored by the Region of Campania (Regione Campania). The event included participants from several mutual aid societies originating from Campania — specifically the towns of Sacco, Teggiano, Sassano and Quaglietta — located in the provinces of Salerno and Avellino respectively. 

I showed up to the event at the San Cono Society headquarters in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and watched masterful women demonstrate how they prepare their families’ gastronomic specialties. It was great to see these cooks get their children and grandchild involved with the cooking and preparation. The intoxicating aromas immediately brought me back to my childhood, reminding me of my grandmother's kitchen and the many wonderful meals we shared together as a family. 

The food was incredible! Cavatieddi rianisi, Savuzicchia cu' pipajuoli, Oacciarieddi cu' li fasuli, Trippa cu' patanj, Carna ri puorcu cunzata, Rava juoli cu senzifero, Cunigliu mbuttunatu, and Fusiddi cu sugu ri cunigliu were just some of the traditional dishes we enjoyed. Roasted chestnuts and a cheese course followed the tasty entrees. And, at the end, we indulged our sweet tooth with an assortment of delectable homemade desserts.

I am grateful that the members of the societies put on the event, and I’d like to give a special thanks to the ladies who worked so hard preparing and cooking all the delicious food. It was an unforgettable experience!
Father Vincent says a few words before saying grace
(Above and below) The nonnas demonstrate some of their time-honored culinary techniques, handed down over several generations 
(Above and below) Like all successful events, a great deal of planning
and hard work took place behind the scenes
(Above and below) A feast fit for a king! 
(Above and below) The ladies put the finishing touches on the platters 
before serving an army of hungry guests 
(Above and below) Some of the delicious sweets we had for dessert 
The accordionist kept the party rolling,
playing our favorite waltzes, tangos and tarantellas
(Above and below) Revelers trip the light fantastic
Placards give brief descriptions of the four towns—Sacco, Quaglietta, Teggiano and Sassano—represented at the dinner
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